Ahmad’s House

August 8, 2007 at 4:55 pm 2 comments

Ahmad is an artist and a designer, who put aside his paintbrushes a few years ago to devote his full energy to restoration, especially of his own house.  I feel like I’m living inside his art. 

From the street, all one can see is a door and two small windows one story above ground level.  Through the door, one enters a small room with a marble-decorated floor and many plants, roofless, from which a set of stairs leads off to the right, and a small doorway beckons straight ahead.  Up those stairs, past a terrace, is a large apartment where a Japanese couple is living for a few months while working in Aleppo. 

Through that next door, one enters the open courtyard, with its white stone floor, beige stone walls, central fountain (Ahmad’s design), dozens of plants, and a grapevine trained over a steel frame above the courtyard to provide summer shade.   

Each time I enter the courtyard, I’m struck by how that anonymous door on the street leads into a private, colorful, quiet space. 


On the wall opposite that internal doorway, Ahmad has carved poetry, painted shutters, and created a remarkable geometric screen over the upper windows.  Inside is our room, a large functional space (with a bed–also his design, sofa, table, desk, bathroom) in which he has invested an enormous amount of time, painting the wall and ceiling panels and restoring old decorative elements.  Beneath our room, Ahmad has his own. 


To the right on entering the courtyard, the Japanese couple lives upstairs, and another room at ground level is currently occupied by a graduate student on a summer internship, also from Japan.  Opposite their rooms, the left (west) side of the courtyard, is a high wall. 


Next to that inner door is the traditional aywan, a space created in Arab houses to provide a shaded area for food and conversation.  Ahmad has restored and installed seating, carved decoration into the stone arch, and painted a remarkable geometric design on the ceiling.  Just past the aywan is the kitchen we share with the student, and above that, The Tower.  The Tower is one small air-conditioned room with a bed, a wooden table, a chair, those two windows onto the street, and my dictionaries, to which I am expected to disappear for most of each day to finish The Book. 


Ahmad has created a studio in one of the cavernous basement areas, where we get to watch his work in progress.  It’s been fascinating to hear his views on restoration and redesign.  Do old structures have to be restored in ways that rigorously adhere to some absolute sense of past architectural styles?  If all those eras also drew on the work of those who had come before, couldn’t restoration be freed from the arbitrary strictures of an antiquarian outlook?   

At another level, Ahmad is completely practical.  He has created the infrastructure needed to bring a 17th century house up to 21st century standards, installing electricity and plumbing, creating a solar hot water system, and developing a massive steel framework above the courtyard to allow him to alter the courtyard climate with the seasons, a canvas overhang to protect from the summer sun, a plastic sheet to keep off rain and limit cold in winter.

Entry filed under: Art/Architecture, Syria, Travel.

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